30% for 30 - Macleans.ca

30% for 30


As much as I loved cheering for Andre Dawson, my response to his election to the baseball Hall of Fame is entirely contingent on how it may affect the cause of Tim Raines. I don’t see a clear answer to that question, but I am worried. There is a chance that the attention paid to Dawson may help his old teammate, who reached a level of 30% support on this year’s ballot (up from 23% last year). Since Raines has a stronger statistical case than Dawson, whose on-base percentage is twenty points behind that of every other outfielder in the Hall, the Hawk could now conceivably be used as a stepping stone to Raines’ argument. “If so-and-so is in, what about the better player who was standing right next to him all those years?” (I’m not suggesting that Raines was better every year. But unlike Dawson, he was, at his best, in an elite small group of the very best offensive players in the game.)

Unfortunately, their talents weren’t of like shape. Dawson’s election is better news for more directly comparable players, notably Dale Murphy. It is hard for the intuitive, non-analytical fan (I am trying not to use the phrase “typical nitwit”) to compare two players as dissimilar as Raines and Dawson. Everything of relevance to winning baseball games can ultimately be weighed on the universal scale of runs and outs, but that involves math. In other words, fuggedaboudit.

My real concern is that two everyday members of the 1980-84 Expos lineup are now in the Hall, and when presented with Raines’ file, BBWAA voters are likely to ask “Are we supposed to believe that a team that never won squat had three prime-age Hall of Famers in the lineup nearly every day?” It is, in fact, a lot to swallow. That zero-sum pressure puts the Raines advocates in the position of not only having to make Raines’ case, but having to persuade the voters that they might have made a mistake in electing Dawson.

The bizarre thing about the Raines Problem is that Raines was, subjectively, an extremely exciting player. He might have been the greatest pure base-stealer ever—he, not Rickey Henderson, is the “textbook” base thief of whom you would show video to a youngster—and a lot of players have gained traction in the Hall of Fame voting with headline credentials like that. Advanced analysis teaches us that base-stealing isn’t very helpful to the offence unless it’s done in large quantities and at a very high percentage, so it’s the voters with a certain mere modicum of sabermetric knowledge who may underrate Raines by dismissing base-stealing and using thumbnail statistics like OPS that—without harm, in most cases—leave baserunning off to one side. A little learning is a dangerous thing, etc.


30% for 30

  1. Sadly, more depends on what side of the bed the writers get up on in the morning. While I appreciate baseball's tendency to have more stringent qualifying (although nepotism is still pretty rampant regardless), it really is odd that after more than ten years someone like Dawson suddenly gets in. I get the delays in hockey. There's only four at a time plus a builder, so players are put off for a few years if there's more deserving nominees. But baseball seems to be a different bird, with 75% of votes needed to get in. Are people just slowly convinced that Dawson was a HoF calibre player, or is there actually that much turnover year to year in the voting?

  2. Support for individual players ratchets up mostly because there's rarely any reason to drop someone once you've decided he is a Hall of Famer. Unless a Tim Raines kills a hobo or something, he can basically only add converts, not lose voters he has already won over.

  3. No player in baseball history worked harder, suffered more or did it better than Andre Dawson. He's the best I've ever seen. I watched him win an MVP for a last-place team in 1987, and it was the most unbelievable thing I've ever seen in baseball. He did it the right way, the natural way, and he did it in the field and on the bases and in every way.

  4. Look, I liked Andre Dawson. I don't want to wear his skin as a garment while I look at myself in the mirror, the way maybe some folks do, but I liked Andre Dawson.

  5. My point was that if you could get someone like say Ryne Sandberg to campaign for the Rock rather than you and Jamie you might have more luck.

    I actually liked Raines more that Dawson for most of the time they played, there is no question he was the superior athlete and more exciting player. (He just wasn't the better ballplayer)

    But the real reason Dawson deserves to be in the Hall is that he handed the Cub management a blank contract and let them decide what he was worth. They said put up or shut up and he did in spades. It is not only one of the great stories in sports it is I believe unique in the modern era.

    • Uh…Raines was the better ballplayer. By a lot. His OBP is 90 points higher. His OPS is higher, even though Dawson has about 250 more homers. Raines' OPS+ is higher, which means that he was better than the average player than Dawson was. Dawson's slight edge in hits is dwarfed by Raines' massive edge in walks. Raines was arguably the best base stealer of all time. Advanced fielding metrics like UZR and Dewan's +/- aren't available for either player, but there's no way that Dawson was so much better in the field that he canceled out the fact that Raines was a better offensive player (especially since Raines' fielding percentage is higher and his Range Factor isn't that far behind Dawson's). As for saying that Dawson played the game "the right way, the natural way": given his knee troubles, plus the general use of amphetamines by all baseball players from the '60s (at least) through to a few years ago when they were banned…he may not have played with vials of cocaine in his pocket, but I doubt he played every day as a drug-free saint.

  6. So I think its great that Macleans cares about the Baseball HoF. I also fully and whole-heartedly agree that Raines belongs in the Hall – moreso than Dawson for that matter.

    But Cosh and Weinman both post about Raines' exclusion and not a word about Robbie Alomar getting totally snubbed. I know he was close (and will most likely get in next year), but his exclusion is a massive sham. He deserved to be a first-balloter. I was looking forward to the first Blue Jay bust in Cooperstown.

    I wonder if Raines and Alomar are reaping the fruits of having played their best years in Canada?

    • I certainly don't think Alomar's not getting in had anything at all to do with playing in Canada. That may hurt some players by making them less noticeable, but the 1992 and 1993 Blue Jays were pretty hard for folks not to notice!

      Man, spitting on that ump though! I'd be willing to bet almost anything that, given how close he got (highest percentage of votes on a first ballot by any player to not make it, ever) that one single transgression could be pointed to as the deciding factor that kept Roberto Alomar from being a first ballot Hall of Famer.

  7. If AD had continued his playing career in the colonies he would have been a very long
    shot for the HoF. He had a few good years as a Cubbie and that got him noticed as a
    very good player even though his best years were behind him at that point.
    Raines ? Well, the colonies … and cocaine. Sports media are fairly conservative folks.

  8. Alomar is certain to be inducted next year. Handwringing over his "snub" is unjustifiable. The writers are very conscious of "first-ballot election" being a special accolade, and Alomar faced character questions in his heyday, plus it hurts a player when his career ends with a sudden plunge in ability (which is a big reason second basemen are underrepresented in the Hall). Remarkably, he almost made it anyway. Under the circumstances it is something for him to be proud of, not ashamed.

    • Alomar REALLY almost made it too. He got a higher percentage of votes on his first ballot than anyone EVER has without getting in.

      I tend to think Alomar is actually deserving of first ballot inclusion, even given the special place that honour is held in by the writers. The man was just an AMAZING second baseman, and did things on the field I still can't believe. On his ability I'm shocked he's not first ballot, but it's still not a total surprise.

      He should never have hocked that loogie.

  9. If those few voters who were drinking absinthe (which would lead one to vote for Eric Karros and Dave Segui) had done even a little bit more studying – like googled 'absinthe' before consuming it – we're probably talking about a Dawson-Alomar HOF dream ticket.
    I truly believe that Raines was a better ballplayer, that Dawson was a more 'classic ballplayer'… Both had major comeback feel-good moments that stirred magic in this fan's mind. Raines, coming back from a serious knee injury, makes his season debut in Shea Stadium and leads the Expos to victory… Dawson's incredible first year as a Cub — an 11th round pick from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical U! Which cap is AD going to wear?
    Okay, its possible after guzzling absinthe and checking off Segui, the few coneheads may have also voted for Alomar, but you get my point…

  10. Advanced analysis teaches us that base-stealing isn't very helpful to the offence unless it's done in large quantities and at a very high percentage, so it's the voters with a certain mere modicum of sabermetric knowledge who may underrate Raines by dismissing base-stealing and using thumbnail statistics like OPS that—without harm, in most cases—leave baserunning off to one side. A little learning is a dangerous thing, etc.

    Of course, writers with more than a modicum of sabermetric knowledge have largely been among Raines' strongest supporters. So while a little learning may be dangerous, that should be reason to encourage more learning – not tie the word "sabermetric" to the barriers in Raines' way.

  11. Well, yeah. That's why I said "mere", "modicum", "most" instead of "all", "underrate", and "little". Should I have thrown in a road sign and some flashing lights?

  12. It's not all that remarkable that the Expos would have had three Hall of Famers playing every day in the early 80s and fail to do anything. Bill James made this point in one of the early 80s Abstracts (maybe 1984?) that the Expos' front-line talent was as good as anyone in the game, but they were undone by the employment of some truly horrific players. The money quote was something along the line of: for every one of the many runs that Tim Raines adds to your lineup, Doug Flynn takes one right back.

  13. It would still be pretty remarkable not to do more with three players of that calibre IF you accept, as the Hall of Fame voters apparently do, that Andre Dawson was a much better player than Fred McGriff or Dwight Evans. If Dawson had been either of those guys they could have carried Flynn's bat just fine.

  14. I should add that when I say Alomar is "certain" to be inducted, I mean it in the sense under which Pete Rose was once described as a "sure-fire Hall of Famer".

  15. All of this has readers thinking sad thoughts about the demise of the Expos, but I don't think I've read an article about the comprehensive wretchedness of the Washington Nationals, and I think by now such an article must exist.